Cinderella Man and the $41.5 Million Slugger

Published 10 years ago
Cinderella Man and the  $41.5 Million Slugger

As Floyd Mayweather earned a massive $41.5 million from his most recent fight against Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez in Las Vegas, South African Phillip Ndou, who fought him a decade ago, was preparing to fight a nobody in Namibia for $4,544. One fighter on the crest of a triumphant wave; the other beached and struggling with a painful comeback. Both connected, and divided, by the outcome of one fight.

Rarely in sport has there been such a yawning gap in fortunes. Mayweather and Ndou, both 36, stand at opposite ends of the boxing scale. Mayweather has fought 45 times with 26 knockouts and remains undefeated. He is a world champion in five divisions and holds eight titles.

Floyd Mayweather throws a right hand at Phillip Ndou early in the WBC lightweight championship fight. (Photo by Matthew Mitchell/Getty Images)


Ndou, known as ‘Time Bomb’, has been sidelined by a brain injury he suffered in 2004. He is now trying to scrape his way back to his former glory.

On November 1, 2003, Ndou and Mayweather stood as equals, toe-to-toe for a WBC lightweight title fight in Michigan, United States. Big puncher Ndou was the hope of Africa that night, but Mayweather knocked him out in the seventh round. Mayweather earned $3 million and Ndou $250,000.

On the night Mayweather beat Alvarez for the WBC and WBA light-middleweight titles, Ndou was watching on television. The South African knew Mayweather would win.

“When I fought him he was not this experienced. Our mistake was we went out to prove a point, which is the weakness Mayweather capitalized on,” says Ndou.


The loss to Mayweather resulted in fading fortunes for Ndou. Seven months later, Ndou lost again to fellow countryman Isaac Hlatshwayo. He collapsed minutes after the fight.

Doctors ruled Ndou unfit to box after a brain scan. The former South African and WBA International featherweight champion, and WBU and WBC international junior lightweight champion, was forced to retire at the young age of 27.

The years after that defeat were spent in the wilderness of television commentary and a cameo in a local soap opera Muvhango. In a role scripted for him, Ndou played a boxing trainer in a club named after him—Time Bomb. That was as near to acclaim as it got for him.

Television brought instant money but a return to the ring took five years.


“I appreciated what people offered to keep me going and [help me] earn a living. But, I am an entertainer in the boxing ring; I missed my days of boxing.”

Ndou returned to the sport in February, 2009, defeating Frenchman, Rachid Drilzane, on a technical knockout in Saint-Quentin, France.

Under a new trainer, Bernie Pailman, Ndou is pursuing a strong comeback. He beat Pius Dipheko in June, climbing to fourth place in the South African welterweight ranking.

“I remain the only pound-for-pound titlist in Africa. I am on a mission to claim my former glory back. I will be a world champion again. I know I have it in me. Thirty six is just a number. I still have many more years [left in the ring],” Ndou says.


“I have never been operated on or taken medication, but here I am. I am grateful to God. He has been there for me.”

In boxing, female managers are rare. Promise Moyo, who manages Ndou, is not going to let her gender get in her, or Ndou’s, way. She was previously a deputy director at a municipality before acquiring her boxing promotion license late last year.

Namibia’s HS Okungo Promotions contracted Ndou for two fights in Windhoek, one against little-known Pohamba Mandume, which he won in eight rounds. Ndou will return to the country in November to fight a contender that is yet to be announced.

“In the few months I have been with Phillip, we secured the Namibian contract and he is in line to challenge for the title. Things are shaping up,” says an upbeat Moyo.


Moyo says the amount of money Ndou earns for a fight is not that important, all they want is to secure more fights and then get him back to the level required for top-notch international bouts.

“The fight against Pius earned him R25,000 ($2,499) and now he is going to Namibia for R45,000 ($4,499), we don’t see things in money terms but the leverage he’s getting day-by-day,” says Moyo.

“Phillip is so disciplined. You can’t believe he is a three-time former champion. Since he’s joined the gym, he’s been consistent and behaved like a hungry student. He has shown commitment to my ground rules,” says Pailman.

Ndou has spent six months training with Pailman, who is known as one of the quietest, yet wisest men in the business.


“We come a long way. We both know what is expected of each other. I am here to learn and he’s the teacher. If you want to work with me, I am not a child anymore and should not be treated like one. I respect trainers who show respect to their boxers,” says Ndou.

“The Namibians can be a clean-up on our front door before going to look outside. But my benchmark for him is Kaizer Mabuza,” says Pailman.

Mabuza is a highly ranked South African who put up a good fight against American and former undisputed world champion, Zab Judah, two years ago. Mabuza lost by a technical knockout.

If Lady Luck smiles on Ndou, the former champion’s dream of fighting before his own people in Thohoyandou, in northern South Africa, for the first time since he turned professional in 1996, could be realized.

You could argue Ndou has done his fair share of the drudgery in the scullery of the fight game, through a beating from Mayweather and recovery from brain damage. If ever there was an African Cinderella, Ndou should surely go to the ball.